Sunday, March 3, 2013

Young Man with Cigarette Writing Prompts

Photo of James Dean

Today's creative writing prompts contain a short poem by Mary Jo Balisteri from her new book, gathering the harvest.  There are many prompt options below, and I also created a study guide for the poem that teachers are welcome to use in the classroom.   Please let us know if you use our materials and if they are helpful.

Young Man with Cigarette by Mary Jo Balistreri

He sits alone, a dark-haired vision
in glasses, haloed in a billowing cloud of smoke.
Fellow students jostle and crowd
into his space at the Steaming Cup
but he remains still and unconcerned.

In my car, I memorize his image and arrange
a still life --- geometric blue tie, an electric blue
sky on white canvas of his tee, slant
of wrought iron chair, long blue-jeaned legs.
The stoplight changes and I take one last look,
prop him in the crevice between
longing and loss.

Below are today's creative writing prompts based on Balistreri's poem.

Fiction:  Give this man in the poem a name and write a scene about what happens when he is done with the cigarette and leaves the Steaming Cup.
Creative Nonfiction:  Write about one of your favorite coffee shops or cafes (past or present).  Why do you like this place?  Why is it important to you?
1.  Write a poem of your own in 10 lines or less that uses at least 5 of the words listed here from the poem:   haloed, billowing, electric blue, crevice, changes, last, longing, geometric, steaming.
2.  The contrast between the two stanzas is part of what makes this poem work.  Try your hand at writing a poem where you describe a scene in the first stanza, and then add to it from a personal perspective in the second stanza.  Also, in your second stanza, do like the poet did with the scene ---- show (don't tell) your reader what you take away from the scene and what it means to you.

Study Guide for  the poem "Young Man with Cigarette" by Mary Jo Balisteri

1.  Are there any lines that you especially enjoyed in this poem?  Please list them and explain why they struck you.
2. What is the function of the first stanza?
3.  What are some differences between the two stanzas?
4.  How many times does the poet mention the word "blue" in this poem?  Why do you think she did this?
5.  What kind of physical movements do we see in this poem?
6.  What kind of art terms does the poet use in this poem?  Why do you think she uses these words?
7.  Do you think the young man in the poem is handsome?  Why or why not?
8.  There is something slightly magical (in a figurative sense) in the last stanza.  Discuss this.  
9.  What do you think the last line means?

Note:  The poem is courtesy of Mary Jo Balistreri, and the study guide was created by Anjie Kokan.  Teachers are welcome to use both in their classrooms. 


  1. Eddie tossed his half finished cigarette into the ashtray and pulled his lanky frame out of the coffee shop chair. He had noticed the young woman in the blue Mustang taking a good long look at him while she waited at the light. He sighed. That part of his life was over he reflected sadly as he headed to the two bedroom walk up he shared with his wife and three small children. How was he going to tell her he had just lost his job?

  2. Great start of a story, Delores. Thank you for posting!


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